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All About Jonathan Apples

Jonathan Apples are considered an American Heirloom variety that was passed over by the commercial world in favor of newer, more exciting apples. However, they continue to be a local favorite, a staple of the North East, and a parent apple to new varieties. 

Jonathan Apples
Several organic fresh ripe juicy tasty, red Jonathan apples.

History Of Jonathan Apples

Interestingly, the Jonathan apple has two original stories. While neither one can be entirely validated, the Jonathan Apple is listed as having originated in Woodstock, New York. 

The first story goes that a woman named Mrs. Higley took seeds from a local cider mill and planted them in Ohio, where her family decided to settle down. These seeds became her own personal orchard. She named the apple after a young local boy, Jonathan.

The second and more widely accepted story places the origins of this variety in 1826 on the farm of Philip Rick, who lived in New York. The seeds that Philip planted came from an Esopus Spitzenburg seedling, which the modern day Jonathan apple is closely related to. The apple that Philip Rick created was originally known as the “Rick” apple and re-named after Jonathan Zander, who brought the apple to the President of Albany Horticultural Society to have it officially recognized.

Either way the Jonathan stuck around as a simple but satisfying variety. It has acted as the parent apple to a wide array of descendants, including the popular Idared. The Jonathan hasn’t done great commercially but is well-loved locally. It’s a great choice for those looking to grow their own trees in the North East and is considered an heirloom variety.

Other apples related to the Jonathan include the Jonagold, Jonafree, and Jonamac. 

What Jonathan Apples Look and Taste Like

Red Jonathan Apples

The Jonathan apple is an inconspicuous apple. It doesn’t have the striking appearance of other newer varieties. Instead, it’s medium sized, slightly taller in height than other apples, and has a yellow base with red overlay. When it has limited sun exposure the apple can appear striped. 

When grown in the Midwest, Jonathan apples are on the larger (medium) size. In the North East they tend to develop into a smaller size. 

Outwardly the skin is tough but thin and smooth. Inside, the flesh is on the softer side – still crisp, but lacking a crunch, and very juicy. The Jonathan apple is known for how juicy it is. It’s a very aromatic apple with a sweet, slightly acidic taste. 

Where to Get Jonathan Apples

If you are looking to purchase your own Jonathan Apple Tree, you can find them at Nature Hills Nursery. Nature Hills Nursery sells high quality apple trees and guarantees their health through the first year.

Your best bet for finding Jonathan apples is exploring the orchards of New England. New England has strong ties to the past and history of the United States, as many colonies started there. Orchards in New England love to cultivate not only newer, more exciting varieties, but their heirlooms. It’s a way to preserve and honor the historic roots of the area.

Jonathan apples are unlikely to be found in grocery stores as they have not held up well against other commercial varieties. But finding them at farmer’s markets wouldn’t be surprising.

They’re also a great option for small yield, home-grown orchards as the trees take up less space than other varieties and provide a decent yield with small to medium sized fruit. Growing your own Jonathan apples at home is as easy as finding a seed or seedling provider who can ship you the variety you’re looking for, and give you a few tips on how to get started. 

Keep in mind that they prefer full sunlight and moist but well-drained soil. 

How to Use Jonathan Apples

Like most apples, the most common use of the Jonathan is fresh eating. They aren’t as enjoyable without that crunch, but the juiciness makes up for it.

This apple has also been used for many deserts and culinary dishes. The flesh breaks down easily and quickly, so it should be supplemented with other apple varieties that retain their shape with cooking if you’re concerned about appearance. The Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, or Braeburn are great options.

Jonathan apples are perfect for apple pies. They can be frozen for later use or canned (in the form of Apple Butter or preserves). When used in pies or cakes, these apples add a lot of moisture. 

If you’re looking for an alternative way to preserve your apples, other than storing them cold, canning is a great option. It can be done in small or bulk batches and because Jonathan apples already break down anyway, you won’t have to worry too much about preserving their shape. Canned apples are a fast and easy way to turn out pies, cobblers, and other desserts fairly quickly. 

Due to how much juice these apples hold, they’re also used often for making apple juice or apple cider. Surprisingly, homemade apple cider isn’t too hard to make, although you’ll want to clear your schedule for three hours or so. But the effort is well worth it in the end!

Jonathan apples also store incredibly well for out-of-season use. In a refrigerator they can last anywhere from 3-6 months. 

Here’s a short list of recipes that the Jonathan apple would do well in:

Jonathan Apple Nutritional Facts

There’s a reason they say “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” as cliché as the saying is.

Fresh apples are a great source of vitamins A and C, as well as fiber. They’ve been proven to help prevent heart disease and promote healthy digestion.

Apples also contain a wide range of antioxidants that inhibit cancer cell proliferation and lower cholesterol. 

They have been linked to preventing: strokes, dementia, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. 

Eating an apple a day can provide 4.4g of fiber, 10.9mg calcium, 9.1mg magnesium, 195mg potassium, 8.37mg vitamin C, and many more vitamins and nutrients.

Growing Jonathan Apples

Jonathan Apples on a Tree

New England is the perfect place to grow Jonathan apples, as it is where they are believed to have originated. They thrive best in a New England climate but will do well anywhere with rich soil. 

In the Midwest they tend to grow larger, whereas on the east coast they’re smaller in size. Trees come full-sized, semi-dwarf, or dwarf, at heights of 20-25ft, 15ft, and 10ft respectively. As a general rule Jonathan apple trees can be planted a bit closer than many other varieties of apple trees, meaning they make a great fit for smaller, home orchards. 

Full sun and moist but well-drained soil is ideal for these trees. They flower fully in May with white to light pink flowers and the fruit ripens later in the season than other varieties. These are slow growth trees, so in a standard size tree fruit will appear in 6-10 years. Dwarf trees fruit in 3-4 years. Keep in mind that these trees should be planted with other varieties to ensure pollination.

Jonathan Apple Tree Care

Common problems the Jonathan apple tree may face include scab, powdery mildew, cedar apple rust, and fire blight.

Apple scab is very common and makes fruit unfit for eating. Leaves have olive green or brown spots. Treatment involves reducing new infections, cleaning dropped leaves from the base of trees, removing infected wood, and pruning regularly. Scab can also be controlled by use of fungicides applied early in the season. 

Powdery mildew is a type of fungal thread that attacks every aspect of the apple tree. It can be severe enough that fruit will not be produced. Unfortunately, it’s easy for this fungus to take hold as it doesn’t require a wet setting, as other fungi do. As with scab, the best way to control mildew is to prune regularly and use fungicides as necessary.

Cedar apple rust is another variety of fungi that attacks apple trees in the North East. It appears as yellow, fuzzy spots on the leaves and teliohorns (horn-like structures) on the fruit. This obviously creates blemishes on fruit, but the fungus also reduces yields and weaken the trees. Treatment includes prevention by cutting down junipers in the area and using fungicides on apple trees.

Lastly, fire blight is a contagious disease that can take out entire orchards. Leaves appear dry and blackened. It affects other fruit trees can is easily transmitted by bees, birds, and weather conditions. It’s possible to use streptomycin spray to create resistance in orchards. There is no known cure for fire blight, so preventing it is key.

Fun Facts

  • Apples are not only beneficial to humans, but to the environment and wildlife as well. They have been shown to provide areas with food, shelter, and symbiotic relationships. Bees rely on fruit trees, including the apple tree, for nectar and pollen. Wildlife can nest in trees or browse the branches. 
  • 2lbs of apples makes one apple pie.
  • Depending on their use, apples used to be referred to as “keepers,” “saucers,” or “dessert apples.” 
  • Apples are a member of the rose family.

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